The Eastern Michigan University gymnastics team placed first over Seattle Pacific, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois, with a score of 192.75, when it hosted the Eagle Invitational “Pink Meet” on Saturday at Bowen Field House.
“We competed well tonight,” EMU Coach Steve Wilce said. “The biggest thing about tonight was, you know, we had a chance to win at the end, and we’ve struggled a little bit growing up and learning how to finish it. Tonight they went out and finished it off real nicely.”
After the first rotation EMU trailed NIU by two-tenths of a point. Kaylyn Millick and Amanda Fuller posted team-high 9.650 and 9.600 scores on the vault.
“Vault’s on a real comeback,” Wilce said. “Vault’s an event that we are getting better at. It’s an event that we had the most injuries on early in the year. Some of those people are just starting to come back, some of the vaults are still fairly new.”
The Eagles performed on uneven bars for the second rotation and took the lead by almost a whole point. Millick, Stacie Wood and Erin Grigg scored 9.700 on bars for EMU.
“Five out-of-six in the bars line-up performed really well,” Wilce said.
“The beauty of bars was the second person got up and went 8.3, and when that happens it puts a lot of pressure on everybody behind you and every one of those kids stepped up and did a very nice job, made a routine, put it together good enough that it put us in a position to win the meet,” he said. “Had one of those kids faltered, we were in trouble.”
WMU took the lead during the third rotation, after EMU had a few falls and checks on the beam, but the Eagles held their lead over Mid-American Conference competitor NIU, 143.675-143.500. Nicole Viltz put up the team-high 9.700 on the balance beam.
The meet was determined during the final rotation, when EMU took to the floor. Millick and Kristen Yourick led the team on the floor exercise, both scoring 9.775.
Wilce said the whole team did a good job on floor.
“They went out and competed on floor like they wanted to win this thing,” he said. “They were aggressive, they were sharp, they did a great job.”
Similarly to the Eagles, NIU (191.300) has had to juggle its lineups this year. NIU still managed individual titles in all four events.
“We’ve been struggling with some injuries and different things in the line-up,” NIU Coach Mark Sontag said. “We were really happy with coming in and doing what we were able to do.”
EMU’s Mickayla Balow performed on floor for the first time this season, returning following an ankle injury that has required season-long rehabilitation.
“Mickayla’s now back, this is the third meet she’s vaulted in now, so she’s back in the line-up and starting to look pretty good,” Wilce said. “She got in a floor routine tonight, so that was a big chance, as a senior, for her to get her last chance in there, so she’s about back.”
Erin Grigg said she wanted to give her fellow senior teammate a shout-out.
“I mean she probably didn’t perform the best floor routine of her life tonight, but she exhibitioned,” Grigg said. “She’s been injured this whole year and this is her event, and I’m so glad that she got out there.”
Several other gymnasts helped push their team to victory.
Millick contributed by winning the all-around competition, posting 38.8 overall, which included scores of 9.650 on the vault, 9.700 on the bars, 9.675 on the beam and 9.775 on the floor.
“Kaylyn is spectacular every week,” Wilce said. “We cannot say enough about that kid, she is just a rock.”
Other major contributions came from Amanda Fuller on the vault, Wood on the uneven bars and Samantha Golden, who started the team off beautifully on the floor, Wilce said.
Grigg said she is proud of her team.
“We had some great performances on a lot of events,” she said. “Colie (Viltz) did an awesome beam routine, Stacie (Wood) did awesome on bars.”
Parent and Alumni Day
The Eagles effort led to an emotional win for the team, who competed at home for the last time this season and celebrated Parent and Alumni Day.
Wilce said he wanted to thank the senior parents, especially, for all they have done for the team over the years.
“Our parents have been phenomenal,” he said. “We appreciate everything they’ve done. They have followed us all over the country, I mean we had about five sets of parents out in California last week, we at least give good vacations.”
There were about 15 alumni who came to the Eagle Invitational to support the 2009-2010 team. Monica Lukas graduated last year and drove up from North Carolina for the meet. She has been coaching gymnastics but said she misses competing at EMU.
“I miss it,” Lukas said. “It was a great time and we had a lot of fun, and I hope they have a good time take advantage of the four years.”
Another alum, Rebecca Fuss, who graduated in 2007, continues to work at the stat desk at home meets.
“I’ve been to every home meet, and they definitely have improved a ton since the first meet, they looked amazing tonight,” Fuss said. “They look like they’re gearing up for a good MAC competition.”
“Pink Meet” a success
The Eagle Invitational was also EMU’s first ever “Pink Meet” fundraising event for breast cancer research, and the team worked with the Susan G. Komen Foundation to raise more than $5,000 for the cause.
“We surpassed our fundraising goals, at the end of last week we had passed the $5,000 mark online, and I don’t know what we finished up at yet,” Wilce said. “They did another, I think, $400 here tonight.”
It was a special night for all of the gymnasts, but especially for junior Grace Crouch, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor.
“This was a big deal for us because it was conference meet and so we were really pushing hard against Northern and it feels really good to have a win over them, and especially over the whole meet,” Crouch said.
“It felt great to me because of my mom going through having breast cancer and being able to help support the cause and then competing for it. We raised a lot of money this year and it was great … My mom actually celebrated her 10-year anniversary in January so this fundraiser was a very big deal to us.”
Crouch’s mother, Christine, attended the meet and said watching her daughter compete was amazing, as always. The Crouches made a three-hour drive to support their daughter and her team’s efforts.
“We get here as often as we can,” she said. “They’re really looking great. They have improved and some of those freshmen are fantastic.”
Closing it out
Next, EMU will travel to Ball State, this weekend, for its last meet of the regular season, before heading to the MAC Championship at the end of the month.
“We feel like we’re definitely building momentum and hopefully we’re gonna peak at the right time,” Wilce said. “We’ve gotta go out there and have our best day at the end of the year.”
The competition will be tough at the MAC tournament in Bowling Green, Ohio. EMU is chasing Kent State and Central Michigan, which are leading the league at the moment.
“Right now there’s two that are kind of ahead of the pack, and then everybody else is somewhat even after that, so if we wanna catch those two we’ve gotta step it up, if we wanna stay ahead of the ones we’re even with we’ve gotta step it up,” Wilce said.
“We’re as good, we don’t always get the love out of the officials that they get but, you know, we’ve gotta make more routines to make that happen.
“Right now it’s not that they’re better, they’re more consistent. We keep taking falls, we keep taking wobbles, but the skill level that we’re doing is very similar to those schools, so it’s not a matter of ‘Are we as good as they are?’ It’s a matter of ‘can we do it as often as they do?’ And right now they’ve got us beat.”
Lukas and Fuss had words of encouragement to the Eagles.
“Just keep pushing through, you know, it all comes down to the MAC meet, nothing else matters once you get there,” Lukas said. “I mean, you’ve had the whole season, but it’s a new day once you get there, so anything can happen.”
Fuss added, “Keep your head up and go hard for MAC’s.”